Ancestors

As Father’s Day approaches, let us stop and think about all of the people who have gone before us to bring us to this day, our ancestors. Let their faces emerge from the mist of the past in a gentle reunion upon the arrival of this new day, this new world in the year 2020.

Such people were not perfect. They were, for the most part, ordinary people. Some had extraordinary talent that helped build the very best for us. Others pursued paths that created unfortunate consequences for us, themselves or for others. A casual look at most family trees will display the full spectrum of human possibilities and human frailties. Yet, whether exemplary or disappointing, like us, all who came before us were significant. As we pause and take a long view of our familial history, one thing is clear: we arrive upon the shore of this day on the backs of those who came before us, our broken and brilliant ancestors.

At an unprecedented time in our history, when we are faced with so many unnerving challenges, a short pause gazing down the long arm of history will perhaps help us gain some perspective.  Gazing into the frightened and brave faces of our resilient ancestors will shows us not only something about them, but perhaps, something about ourselves.

In preparation for this writing, I reviewed the ancestral lines of my family and discovered some astonishing facts: 1) My grandfather Coffey’s family lineage traces our Caldwell County presence back seven generations to 1812, a momentous time in American history, and, further still to a Virginia lineage dating to the pre-dawn American years of the 1650’s; 2) My father’s lineage made it’s late Scotch-Irish American arrival to Iredell County during the horrifying European potato famine of the 1840’s about the same time my grandmother Barger’s German family immigrated to Catawba County from Pennsylvania.

These facts school me. They paint a sobering portrait of struggle, endurance and change in the American landscape. My ancestors experienced the American Revolution, a time of cataclysmic societal change. Arriving in Caldwell County after the infamous Trail of Tears displaced thousands of Cherokee people and other native people to reservations, my ancestors claimed a homestead in the frontier of Western North Carolina. For them, the Caldwell County of 1812 was a strange new normal.  Thirty years later, my father and maternal grandmother’s families left Europe under immense duress amidst political and religious infighting that threatened many families with starvation, landing these frightened immigrants in Iredell and Catawba Counties where they struggled for generations to adjust to life in America after risky Atlantic Ocean crossings.

I share these ancestral details not to claim special heraldic pedigrees. My ancestors were mostly ordinary people. I share details similar to your family story to say that our ancestors confronted unbelievable change and hardship to lay the foundation of our community. Today, it’s hard for us to imagine what they endured and survived.  But in review of our communal history, we see that some fared better than others; some faced challenges of race, language, gender, creed or national origin others were spared. Some arrived with advantages that endure to this day, while others plied hard work with the kismet of luck to succeed in fulfilling American dreams. Some who came with fortunes lost them while others worked lifelong in North Carolina mills but never rose above their beginnings. The long view of our family histories show that we are all a bit of all these people, our ancestors.    

This week, on the anniversary of Father’s Day, I simply wish to honor these ancestors with my deepest appreciation and to recommit myself to enduring whatever challenges – small by comparison - I must face in our modern new normal for the sake of a better future.  

We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. Let us live worthy of their story.

Blessings,
Pastor  Frank